Matt Lerner  posted a thread on Twitter about personas.  “At PayPal, I once wasted $1M on a marketing segmentation to build personas. Here’s what we actually learned, plus what I now do instead.”

« First of all, the research was exquisite. Ipsos started with dozens of interviews, then fielded thousands of surveys and clustered their findings into a segmentation. The work was par excellence.

It teased out nuances among our merchant segments: eBay sellers, DtC, multi-channel, etc. Each persona had scores for risk tolerance, price sensitivity, ambition and tech savvy. Eventually I asked myself “how will this help our marketing?” And realised it never would.

These differences were fascinating but inconsequential. Merchants basically want the same 6 things; a payment system that:

  1. Buyers trust
  2. Makes checkout easy
  3. Works with merchants’ existing systems
  4. Isn’t too expensive
  5. Helps manage fraud
  6. Has good customer service

You don’t need to be a PayPal expert to know that, and I definitely didn’t need to spend $1M to figure it out! But here’s my real lesson… Personas, even well-researched ones, are worthless for marketing. Try this thought experiment…

Imagine you own a beachside restaurant and you’re trying to get more customers. Which one of these facts is more useful to you?

  • Tammy is a 39 y/o divorced mother of 2, from Atlanta, she works in compliance, earns $58K/yr, throws right, votes left. Or…
  • Tammy is on the sweltering hot beach with two kids, they’re getting hungry, and one of them has to pee. Option 2 wins, it tells us that ice-cold air con and a no-fuss kids menu will draw Tammy in, where #1 leaves us guessing.

As a marketer, I need to understand 5 things:

  1. What do prospects stress about? So I can play up that pain in ads & headlines. (It usually converts better than talking about the product.)
  2. Where do they look for solutions? So I can turn up there (e.g. good search terms, complementary services that can send referrals).
  3. Which alternatives did they try and how did those come up short? So I can position against them.
  4. How do they describe success? So I can write a great landing page!
  5. What are they nervous about? So I can call out and address each objection on my landing page and in my nurture emails. How do I get those 5 answers? (For a lot less than $1M?)

Eventually, I discovered Jobs To Be Done. And here’s how I use it specifically for marketing. First, I interview people who recently signed up for my service or a competitor and ask questions like:

  1. What were you hoping to do?
  2. Why is that important to you?
  3. Where did you look?
  4. What else did you try?

Instead of a persona, I fill out a “Job Card.” You can download my template here, plus a full list of interview questions. »

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